AT&T, one of the biggest sponsors of American Idol, may have played a role in Kris Allen's victory over Adam Lambert according to a new report in the New York Times. The paper says that the phone company distributed cell phones with free text messaging and taught Allen fans how to "cast blocks of votes" at two parties in the singer's native Arkansas. AT&T is the only mobile provider that allows users to cast American Idol votes via text message. Update: Fox and Idol's producers and 19 Entertainment issued a statement today confirming their vote was secure and fair; read the full text below.
According to the report, AT&T reps helped partygoers at a pair of Arkansas events cast "power texts," a function that permits the sending of 10 or more texts at a single time; the NYT notes such messages obviously "have an exponentially greater effect on voting than do single text messages or calls to the show's toll-free phone lines." A spokesperson for AT&T admitted yesterday that the company did participate in some viewing parties, stating, "In Arkansas, we were invited to attend the local watch parties organized by the community. A few local employees brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested."
NYT also reports it appears that no AT&T employees provided free text messaging or power-text tutorials for any Lambert viewing parties, which has thousands of Lambert supporters streaming onto message boards to cry foul despite the fact that nobody has confirmed such events did not take place. During the competition, many Lambert fans expressed outrage over a post at Kris Allen fansite Kris Allen Nation that featured instructions for power texting and using online phone program Gizmo. Sites supporting Lambert, like Adam-Lambert.org also urged viewers to use Gizmo and "power vote." (Check out photos from Lambert's Idol run.)
Idol fan destination MJ's Big Blog points out that AT&T voter assistance has been reported in the past for contestants Taylor Hicks (who also won) and Elliott Yamin.
Since American Idol never made clear the final gap in votes between Allen and Lambert, it's hard to truly know whether these Arkansas parties played any role in Allen's victory. Claims that Arkansas alone cast 38 million of the nearly 100 million votes submitted in the finale were quickly debunked in the days following Allen's win. Fox has made no comment regarding the allegations against their major sponsor, but a disclaimer at the end of each episode warns that votes cast using "technical enhancements," like power texting, would be thrown out.
Statement from Fox and Idol team: "Fox and the producers of American Idol are absolutely certain that the results of this competition are fair, accurate and verified. Kris Allen is, without a doubt, the American Idol. We have an independent third-party monitoring procedure in place to ensure the integrity of the voting process. In no way did any individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the competition."
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